08 September 2007

Of Daddies and Daughters

You're never too old to learn, never too old to realize how the world really works. I've spent the summer having a lesson seared into my mind--one which contradicts one of the greatest goals of my life:

The ideal that my daughter would grow to cherish me.

It was much harder for me to write the sentence above than it could have been surprising for you (especially if you're a father) to read it. I've found it to be one of the coldest and hardest facts of life to come to terms with, yet I ask you...

Can you think of a grown daughter who actually cherishes her father?

I think it's a myth--one that I fell for hard the minute Ellie was born on a bright Arizona day in May of 1997. We have all these niceties in our culture--the expression, "Daddy's girl," is a prime example--that deceive fathers like me into believing a Lie.

When Ellie was nursing, I spent every night reading The Odyssey to her and Jenny. We took her everywhere--to Grand Canyon, Calfornia, Vienna, Budapest, and Albania--and both Jenny and I dreamed of raising a girl who would share our adventurous view of the world.

When Ellie was three, I read a series of books about world history to her. She showed a wonderful aptitude for history--any story, for that matter. "Daddy, tell me a story!" was her favorite expression, and I grew as a storyteller and a writer--my first manuscript, still unpublished, sadly, is a book-length version of one of her most favorite stories from that time: Nitokris's Sandal.

We returned from Albania when Ellie was two, and for the next four years of her life, I stayed home with her for all but one of them--a year I flailed away working for Catholic Charities. I coached her soccer team for four seasons. I went to incredible lengths to be a part of her life and to lead and adore as a father should.

And now it seems that it was really a waste of time. Ellie turned ten last May. Contempt followed soon after. "I don't think you really love me," she wrote me in a note at that time. It was a slap in the face, but I played along, trying to point out some of the things I've done for her, showing affection when I could. But to be honest, it was like telling me, in the middle of an epic road trip, "I don't think you've started the car yet."

Don't get me wrong, in many ways I've seen Ellie grow up this summer. She's taller. She takes a lot more responsibility at home, and her grades have improved. But I've also seen her grow apart. I'm the only person in the family who has a stronger personality than Ellie, which leads to far too many conflicts. She gets her way with just about everyone else.

The more I think of it, though. This is the way with little girls. They grow away from their daddies, pausing only for a brief, nostalgic display on their wedding day, before continuing life without them. I looked at the little girls that had grown up around me: Jenny, my sister, my close friends. I just don't see that any of them really love their fathers in the way that I wish my daughter would love me--the ideal that I mentioned earlier.

I talked with Jenny about this. She talks with her dad once or twice a year. He visited last summer for the first time in four years, and she's fine with that. She blames him for a lot of that--and, I agree that he made some major blunders with both her and her mother. But I asked her if she hadn't already started moving away before that. She figured that she probably had.

That is my major revelation of the week. It isn't a very positive one, but it is an important one, both for me and for Ellie. Since I came to this realization, I have treated Ellie with affection, but I haven't made a big deal about the insulting things she says or does. For example, when she planned a whole summer trip to go to EPCOT Center for just her and Jenny, I said, "Then I'm going to take the boys to Niagara Falls so we can be as far away from you as possible."

The 'Old Daddy' would have said, "Don't you remember all the road trips I've taken you on? Do you remember the places we've talked about visiting together?" The 'New Daddy' just volleyed the insult and went on with life, lower expectations and all.

Because that's the real way it is with daughters, and with daddies, and with life.


garnet said...

I was going to ask you -- in reference to your comment in response to my comment on the last entry (how's that for a confusing description?) what I had to look forward to, but I guess this answers it somewhat.

From my point of view, you've done an amazing job with Ellie.

Norman McNulty said...

Thanks for opening up with us JD and sharing what you're thinking. I have no idea what it's like to be a father, so I'm sure you'll be able to share plenty of golden nuggets when I get to that time in life. I'm sure Ellie loves you a lot even though the years of her life she's in now can be quite the challenge. There's nothing like being a family, with all the ups and downs through the years.

Manny said...

Hi Mr. D - sorry to read about the growing pains. Speaking as someone who had a rough relationship with my dad growing up (I know I'm a son and not a daughter, but still), we have grown very close as I've matured. There wasn't anything concrete regarding our distance years ago, just basic personality conflicts; but underneath it all was love, and its importance and permanence are what I came to realize later on - my prayer is that Ellie has a similar epiphany soonest.

JD said...

Thanks Manny, but I'm just being honest here. I think boys are wired to emulate their dads. They may hate them and misunderstand them, but eventually, whether they like it or not, they lock in.

Girls just aren't that way, and it's kind of silly to expect them to be that way. Robyn has a lot to look forward to: she's a great mom, and Larissa will follow that. As long as Lari doesn't get his hopes up, like I did, the Rusenescus will be just fine.

meg said...

JD, I can hear your pain in this entry! But do remember that she is 10 years old and like most kids of that age, probably trying to figure out who she is on her own. The fact that she has a strong personality is a testiment to you and Jenny and can be a real strength in life.

And I have to add as well, that I don't agree with your conclusion. I love, cherish, respect and admire my dad and have learned a lot about life from him. I still talk to him if something is troubling me. So I really do believe that little girls can grow up and eventually see the incredible person their dad is-Ellie will too, I'm sure of it.

5Gustos said...

I think that challenging kids just help us to keep on our toes. Life would be boring without the challenge. I have a chopped up childhood history, so I can't comment much on the father/daughter scenario. But...boys and mothers can be a trial also. My son (10 yrs.) told me yesterday that he used to hate me but he doesn't anymore. What does that mean? Can't he tell that I would give my life for him? What more could I do to make him happy and feel loved? Ahhhh...life. Gotta keep going even in the rough times.